AFP reports: Weakened by years of war, Syria’s government appears ready for the country’s de facto partition, defending strategically important areas and leaving much of the country to rebels and jihadists, experts and diplomats say.
The strategy was in evidence last week with the army’s retreat from the ancient central city of Palmyra after an advance by the Islamic State group.
“It is quite understandable that the Syrian army withdraws to protect large cities where much of the population is located,” said Waddah Abded Rabbo, director of Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the regime.
“The world must think about whether the establishment of two terrorist states is in its interests or not,” he said, in reference to IS’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq, and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front’s plans for its own “emirate” in northern Syria.
Syria’s government labels all those fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad “terrorists,” and has pointed to the emergence of IS and Al-Nusra as evidence that opponents of the regime are extremists.
Since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011 with peaceful protests, the government has lost more than three-quarters of the country’s territory, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.
But the territory the regime controls accounts for about 50 to 60 percent of the population, according to French geographer and Syria expert Fabrice Balanche.
He said 10-15 percent of Syria’s population is now in areas controlled by IS, 20-25 percent in territory controlled by Al-Nusra or rebel groups and another five to 10 percent in areas controlled by Kurdish forces. [Continue reading…]